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Plattsburgh, New York  

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Peru

Town Historian:

Ronald & Carol Allen
PO Box 142
Peru, NY 12972
Telephone: (518) 643-2745  X113
email: perutownhistorian@charter.net

A Brief History of Peru, New York

by Ron Allen, Peru Town Historian

Nestled between the Adirondack Mountains and Lake Champlain, the Town of Peru was formed from Plattsburgh and Willsborough on Dec. 28, 1792. A part of it was annexed back to Willsborough in 1799 and the towns of Ausable and Black Brook were taken off in 1839. Its present boundaries are the towns of Saranac, Schuyler Falls and Plattsburgh on the north, the towns of Ausable and Black Brook on the south, Lake Champlain on the east and the town of Black Brook on the west. The area of the town is approximately seventy-nine square miles. Some of the early settlers thought that the mountains surrounding the town resembled those of Peru, South America. Hence, the origin of the town's name. The earliest concentration of settlers was in an area called the "Union", a Quaker settlement in the vicinity of the present Keese Homestead and Quaker Cemetery on what is now Union Road. These early Quaker settlers or "Friends" as they preferred to be called, were mainly farmers and came from Dutchess County, N.Y. and previously, England. Some of the family names of those pioneer settlers still abound in the town today: Allen, Arnold, Baker, Elmore, Everett, Hay(s), Keese and Thew, to mention a few.

John Cochran has the honor of being the founder of the present site of Peru Village about the year 1795. He built a house and a grist-mill on the banks of the Little Ausable River. Harvesting abundant timber became Peru's first industry and resulted in several saw-mills being built along the river. A. Mason & Sons lumber mill, located in the heart of the village, flourished for nearly a century, from 1883 to 1972. The mill was the town's largest employer for most of those years. Now, the empty stone Heyworth/Mason building is the only surviving remnant of that once busy mill site. As the lands were cleared of timber the area's rich, fertile soil gave rise to agriculture which persists to this day in the form of dairy farms and several apple orchards. Iron making also played a major role in the economic development of early Peru with the discovery of high quality iron ore in the Arnold Hill area in 1810.

As the population of Peru grew from a small handful of settlers in 1792 to 1,923 in 1810 and 2,710 by 1820, other settlements within Peru's boundaries came into being. Goshen, Lapham's Mills or Bartonville, Peasleeville, Port Jackson, later Valcour and Peru Landing all contributed to the town's growth. The bustling Lake Champlain ports of Peru Landing and Port Jackson led to railroads and stations built at Valcour, Lapham's Mills and Peru Village. Churches, schools, businesses and ever expanding industries all increased in number throughout the township.

Peru has an exceptionally rich past in the form of military history. Its Lake Champlain shores saw much activity during the French and Indian War period. The lake was the main north-south corridor for war parties of Native Americans and French and British armies. Benedict Arnold's most important Revolutionary War naval engagement with the British at the Battle of Valcour Oct. 11, 1776 took place within the town. The War of 1812 brought forth the Peru militia under the leadership of Capt. David Cochran. They fired the first shots in the victorious and decisive Battle of Plattsburgh in Sept., 1814. The opening of Plattsburgh Air Force Base in 1955 brought thousands of military personnel to the area. The majority of those personnel resided within the Peru Central School District. The school district grew from 800 students to over 3,000 necessitating the building of four new schools.

The present population of Peru is 6,370 according to the 2000 census. Long gone are most of the timber and iron related industries and the many mills that once lined the banks of Peru's rivers. Fires have taken their toll on many buildings in the center of the village. It is now a relatively quiet semi-rural residential area surrounded by thousands of acres of apple orchards and dairy farms.

Further information re: Peru's history may be obtained from Hurd's History of Clinton and Franklin Counties; Lincoln Sunderland's 3 vol. History of Peru; and, the Town of Peru website: http://www.perutown.com

Last Updated:09/12/2010

Clinton County Historical Association
98 Ohio Avenue
Plattsburgh, New York 12903 (518) 561-0340